Review: Elden Ring is Promising, but Held Back by Its PC Performance

Elden Ring is massive. When FromSoftware announced it would be creating a new open world experience, I expected maybe a handful of areas cleverly linked together in the developer’s usual fashion. But Elden Ring is a sprawling game, laden with mysteries and extremely challenging boss fights that will test the skill of just about any player. No doubt, it has become one of the most anticipated games of 2022. Potentially for a good reason. However, Elden Ring squanders what promise it holds by performance issues on PCs and a lack of deviation from Dark Souls in almost any regard.

It wasn’t until I was roughly 40 hours in that I discovered that I was effectively playing a majority of Elden Ring in reverse. I had uncovered some areas prematurely. Because of the sheer amount of ways to approach certain parts of the map, I was throwing myself against proverbial brick walls. While there were other avenues I could explore, the lack of direction had me convinced that this was the right way to go. But there is no right way in Elden Ring.

You will find world bosses scattered throughout the map, some barring progress in directions you might believe you need to go. Those bosses felt infinitely harder than some story relevant fights. Mostly because, for some reason, my frame rate would dip dramatically during these open world encounters. There was one particular instance against the Tree Sentinel that caused my game to not only freeze, but stutter for more than a few seconds at a time. This wasn’t the first time it would happen. It was a recurring issue within the area and with this particular boss.

FromSoftware

These issues would appear sporadically in Elden Ring on the PC. Sometimes during boss fights constrained to wide arenas. Sometimes while moving between areas on the map. It didn’t matter if I was mounted, running through fields of grass, or maybe sprinting haphazardly through pools of shallow water. The worst instance occurred during one of the boss fights reserved for later in the game. The game froze several times, and the frame rate dropped significantly. Other instances included bugs that sounded like some kind of audio corruption. Perhaps the most frustrating things, outside of the frame drops, were the infinite loading screens and crashes. These would usually happen when I would attempt to respawn at a Statue of Marika after dying. While it’s a minor inconvenience, as there are Points of Grace are aplenty on the map, it was frustrating nonetheless.

Thankfully, the Elden Ring PlayStation 5 performance fared somewhat better. While I did see the occasional frame rate drops, loading times were faster and I experienced no crashes. I played roughly 25 hours of the game on the PS5 to see if the same performance issues and frame drops appeared in the same areas as they did on PC. While some areas and boss fights were still affected, it wasn’t nearly as egregious. This is the version of the game I would recommend to those interested in playing the game. However, there are other grievances I have with its general performance. While a day-one patch rolled out, the performance on PC wasn’t particularly better as a result. Which could change over time with future updates. That said, with a game so reliant on frames to time dodges, the technical issues I experienced were deeply frustrating.

Especially considering the play style that I’ve carried over from multiple FromSoftware games. I’m not a player that builds vitality. That was mostly a mistake while playing Elden Ring. Due to the open nature, I was running into bosses well above my level. While I was able to defeat them with persistence — and through the use of the trusty and almost broken-feeling Reduvia Blood Blade that’s since been rebalanced — it wasn’t exactly fun. I did not feel the usual sense of accomplishment, like each victory was well earned, mostly because I felt like I had managed to win through luck.

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And trust me, I love a challenge! If given the opportunity, I will brute force my way through anything. If it’s possible, I’ll absolutely try to do it. But it’s clear that despite the open world aspect of Elden Ring, it will be all the more difficult if you go about things in the way the game does not intend. Especially if you don’t allocate points into vitality. So much of the game feels as though it almost requires players to level up this particular stat in order to comfortably get through the game. And of course you can do that to make things easier! However, the fact that it almost seemed necessary felt like a detriment.

Elden Ring PC

In FromSoftware games, there’s a level of fairness you might expect. After learning the systems, things become clear. For example, when discovering just how far you can push the trading mechanic in Bloodborne, the way to play the game becomes apparent. But in Elden Ring, it feels like the player is playing Dark Souls and the enemies are playing Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. So when Miyazaki revealed that Elden Ring was in development alongside Sekiro everything about the design sensibilities made a lot of sense.

Outside of a few standard enemy types, most you will encounter are fast. Attacks are frantic, which barely gives the player time to breathe. No amount of points I pumped into my stamina was enough to really keep me safe. And enemies are more aggressive when using spells or attacking from a range. It keeps you on your toes, which can sometimes be a good thing.

But Elden Ring feels less about skill and more about simply enduring. It became a dance of measuring just how much damage I could take and if my vitality would be enough to survive between the few hits I could manage to get in. This was further compounded by attacks from enemies tracking you as you frantically try to dodge to the right or left. This isn’t necessarily the case for early bosses, but you can feel how reactive the AI is almost immediately. Especially when using spells.

Bosses near the second half of the game become even more agile, with the exception of a few, or hit so impossibly hard it feels like you don’t have much of a chance. This is further compounded by every boss having a second phase, be it introduced through a cutscene or an enemy revealing an entirely new set of skills once their health bar reaches the halfway point. I also encountered some clipping issues with one boss in particular. His wide sweeping attacks would go through the ground and instantly kill my character.

Using shields or opting for more durable builds potentially circumvent a lot of these issues, along with the choice use of Ashes. These new items allow for players to summon spectral creatures, or even NPCs, to assist them in battle. They will either deal damage or distract bosses. But Elden Ring could potentially be frustrating to players who want to pursue more varied builds or stray from that particular path. But running through the game with low vitality is entirely possible, as I had managed to overcome most bosses well below the levels the developers potentially intended. Horseback combat was mostly just okay. I didn’t find it particularly interesting or very fun.

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Elden Ring PC

That said, there are plenty of things to enjoy about Elden Ring. The open world feels vast, and each region on the map feels wholly unique and distinct. The verticality in some maps is interesting. Having Torrent alleviates a lot of the stress of running through enemy encamps on foot. Enemies you encounter will vary between these areas, and there is a genuine sense of culture fostered by their respective demigods.

There is one area in particular I absolutely loved, mostly for how saturated the environments were and its splendid use of colors. My favorite parts involved exploration and discovering something new. Even on my second playthrough on the PlayStation 5, I was uncovering things I hadn’t seen during my initial Elden Ring run on the PC. I had encountered NPCs I initially missed and progressed stories that had halted due to the strange way I had chosen to tackle the game the first time around.

Elden Ring is full of colorful characters. However, they’re similar to previous NPCs in FromSoftware games. Some are cryptic and strange, while others border on the supernatural. Archetypes from the Dark Souls series appear and seem to be series staples, as they adhere to the world building of the Souls games almost beat-for-beat. Women are largely regarded as analogous to “life givers,” with very few prominent NPCs straying from this tired path. Patches is there, because of course he is. And there are nods to a noble aristocracy who use blood-based techniques, similar to the Vilebloods from Bloodborne.

There are several different factions as well, but ultimately aligning with one doesn’t mean much in the way of the story. Some paths will open up and make progression somewhat easier, but aren’t required. It was a bit disappointing that some NPCs didn’t remark upon my joining of a specific house, based on their prerogative to effectively murder other NPCs. Maybe that was because I had, as mentioned previously, played the game backward. I felt like doing this locked me out of several dialogue options with prominent NPCs or from specific storylines. And as the order isn’t specific, it could potentially be easy for players to make those mistakes. But that’s what a second or third playthrough is for, as Elden Ring seems like a game with incredible potential to keep the player entertained through numerous runs.

Elden Ring

The narrative itself is what you would expect from FromSoftware and is serviceable enough to keep the player moving forward. You are a Tarnished, set to recover Great Runes from beings of immeasurable power. Your path isn’t necessarily predetermined. It is clear that you are the vehicle of change within the world. Your destiny is intertwined with the NPCs you will meet and how you choose to proceed. Thankfully, taking NPCs into major battles doesn’t kill them. So players won’t need to err on the side of caution if they’re looking to take their favorite characters into a fight, so long as their summon sign is available.

The score has some particular stand-out pieces, which help create a sense of atmosphere in any given area or encounter. The Magic Academy of Raya Lucaria in Liurnia was one of my favorite areas in the game for this reason. A more subtle melody plays as you explore the derelict remains of what was once potentially a prestigious academy. However, most of the more encounter-focused music teeters on the edge of sounding like a track you would find in Dark Souls III. Which isn’t a bad thing! But with Elden Ring being an entirely new IP, you would expect something more distinct, or more in line with the song that accompanied the game’s announcement trailer.

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FromSoftware

I played the majority of my reviewing period by myself. This was mostly to see how bosses would scale going into other players’ games or worlds upon the full release. I was extremely disappointed to see that FromSoftware has gone the way of Bloodborne’s multiplayer, which means my stats were nerfed the moment I stepped into another person’s game. I was hoping that this wouldn’t be an option, as previous interviews stated that multiplayer will potentially make the game easier for players. But I find this hard to believe, if pulling people into your game will make their builds less viable or less durable. I also experienced constant connection issues, and the game booted me out of multiplayer at random. Which isn’t great, especially since you will need to use a specific item (that you can craft or purchase) to make summon signs visible.

In the way of accessibility, there is next to nothing here. The PC version of Elden Ring allows for players to rebind their keys, but that’s about it. The PlayStation 5 version has no accessibility options. Customization options between the two are minimal at best. Yes, you can adjust the graphics settings for the PC version of Elden Ring, but that menu is about as in-depth as it gets. It would be nice to see FromSoftware incorporate other accessibility options in the future, maybe in the way of allowing players to adjust game speed.

There are some issues with the menu as well, mostly in the way that it’s just so layered that it can be confusing to navigate at times. And while a map is available, the marker system is somewhat useless, as you cannot leave notes to tell you the significance of any particular place outside of very tiny insignias. I really suggest players take notes while playing the game. Especially when discovering notable locations, as NPCs might ask you to go there at a later date. Only a select number of locations remain named on the map or through Points of Grace.

Elden Ring is a potentially great game that is hindered by massive performance issues. It doesn’t do anything particularly genre-defining, as it mostly sticks to what FromSoftware always does. It will no doubt please fans of the Dark Souls series. But its lack of accessibility options and somewhat restrictive multiplayer may leave some wanting. Ultimately, I think it will potentially offer a better experience down the line, as the day-one patch has already changed some fundamentals of the game. With no real improvement regarding its performance on PC, Elden Ring is a hard game to recommend until a more stable version is available.

Reviewer’s PC Specs

  • Processor AMD Ryzen 9 5900X 12-Core Processor 3.70 GHz
  • Installed RAM 32.0 GB
  • Graphics Card: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080

Elden Ring is available for the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC.

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